There are 48 unreached people groups in Vietnam (the Secret Church 15 prayer focus) comprised of 89,160,250 individuals. Of those 48 people groups, 24 are unengaged. Below, David Platt helps us understand just what it means to be unreached . . .
Who are the unreached in our day? Who are the people who have never heard?
The unreached are people groups among whom there is no indigenous community of believing Christians able to engage the people group with church planting. Now you’ll notice in that definition the term “people group.” And just to remind you what that means . . .
When Jesus commanded the church to make disciples of all the nations, the word he used for nations there is “ethnē,” from which we get words like “ethnic groups.” And this is important, because when Jesus was talking about nations there in Matthew 28:19, he wasn’t referring to nations like we think of nations today – 200 or so geopolitical nations in the world that, quite frankly, didn’t exist 2000 years ago, when Jesus said this, in the way they do now. No, Jesus is specifically talking about ethnic groups: groups of people that share common cultural and language characteristics. And among 200 nations today, there are a plethora of people groupings.
And not just among nations, but in cities. We had a group of church members who recently went into our city to make connections with different people groups represented here, and they went to international restaurants and markets, community centers and college campuses, where they met Thai, Filipino, Vietnamese, Punjabi, Gujarati, Colombian, Salvadoran, Palestinian Arab, Jordanian Arab, Northern Yemeni Arab, and Moroccan Arab people, just to name a few! And that’s in Birmingham, AL, hardly the most cosmopolitan city in the world.
So think about 200 nations filled with a diverse array of peoples. Most anthropologists and missiological scholars say there are over 11,000 different people groups. So unreached peoples, then, are people groups who don’t have “an indigenous community of believing Christians” – and what that means is that there is not a church made up of men and women from that people that is sufficient to engage that people with the gospel . . . that has enough presence to make the gospel known among that people.
Technically speaking, when we say “unreached,” we’re saying that the percentage of evangelical Christians in this people group is less than 2%. And why that’s important is because what that means is that if there’s not a substantial church presence among a people, then not only do over 98% of the people not believe the gospel, but because there’s no church around them, and no Christians among them, then most of them have never even met a Christian (i.e., a person who would share the gospel with them). They are “unreached.” Most (if not almost all) of the people in that people group have not been reached by a Christian . . . and Christ has not been named/preached among them.
So how many people are unreached in the world today? And our best estimate is that out of over 11,000 distinct people groups, over 6,500 people groups are unreached. Over 6,500 are classified as unreached according to the definition above. And just to make sure we feel the weight of that number of people groups, 6,500 people groups includes at least 2 billion individual people. So we’re talking in a world of 7 billion people, at least 2 billion of them are unreached—2 billion people who’ve still not been reached with the gospel of Christ.
And just to put one more term on the table – “unengaged.” Over 3,000 of these 6,500 people groups are also unengaged, meaning there is currently no evangelical church planting strategy underway to reach that people group. And those people groups include around 200 million individual people. So in many cases (not in all, but many), these are smaller people groups that don’t comprise large swaths of people, but they still have distinct ethnicity and many times language. I was spending some time recently with a group of missionaries from the International Mission Board . . . and these missionaries were working to reach people groups who still have had no contact whatsoever with the outside – living in total isolation.
Now what was encouraging was that there were people working to get the gospel to them. What is overwhelming is to think that, right now, there’s at least 3,000 people groups (many of which are smaller ethnic groups), that have no one specifically trying to reach them with the gospel. There’s only one thing worse than being lost; that’s being lost and having no one try to find you.
Now all these numbers of unreached and unengaged can feel distant. That’s the way numbers and statistics work. So, practically, what does it mean to be unreached? . . . I want you to put yourself in the shoes of one of these two billion people in the world who are unreached.
So imagine you, your family, or your kids – so not two billion, but one or two or three or four of you – if you are unreached, practically, that means that you do not currently have access to the gospel. In other words, you likely don’t even know it exists. Either, like some people I have met in the world, you have never even heard the name of Jesus: “Jesus . . . who’s that?” Or, you’ve heard of Jesus, but you know as much about Him as you know about Confucius: “I think he taught on personal and governmental philosophy, maybe . . . and had influence on Eastern thinking . . .” But that’s about all you know. And you don’t know any Christian. You don’t know anyone who knows the truth about Christ. You’ve never met anyone who knows the truth about Christ . . .
If you’re unreached, it means you don’t have access to Christians, to truth about what Christ has done, and unless something changes, you will likely be born, live, and die without ever hearing the gospel. That’s what we’re talking about practically – people who, if they die today (so put yourself in their shoes . . . if you die today and you are in their shoes, you) will die likely never having heard the good news of what God has done in Christ.